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In the information age, word of mouth rules marketing on the net. Customers easily communicate about brands through social media. While in the past, a bad experience with your services or products may have gone no further than a coffee shop conversation, every complaint is now available for the world to see. If you have a customer expressing their anger through social media, tread carefully to avoid a bad interaction going “viral”. Here’s three ways you can approach customers through social media sites like Facebook and Google+, and turn a negative complaint into a way to bolster your brand.

1. Respond with a Sincere Apology

One of the worst ways to respond to customers is with a flippant apology. Recently, the founder of Lululemon, a clothing company, was forced to depart his business after using an apology video as a way to blame women’s bodies for defective yoga pants. The mediocre apology went viral, and the brand became synonymous with misogyny.

In most cases, customer complaints stem from simple mistakes or oversights. A half-hearted apology will come off as not only half-hearted to the customer, but to potential leads reading the exchange as well. Terrible apologies stemming from bruised pride can cost people their jobs. Is it really worth it to damage your brand because you don’t feel the customer’s feelings were valid? Without mentioning liability, apologize to the customer for what happened to them and acknowledge the way they felt as valid.

2. Go Above and Beyond the Call of Duty

Back in 2008, a young man shipped his customized Xbox into Microsoft for repairs. The Xbox was covered in signatures from popular members of the gaming community, and held a lot of sentimental value for the customer. He shipped it along with a message asking techs not to clean the signatures off. They scrubbed every last permanent marker signature off, and the story quickly went viral. Gamers lashed out at Microsoft in anger, but luckily the company responded in a way that left people gushing about a company finally making things right.

The company had Bill Gates sign the Xbox, and included a bunch of new games to make up for their mistake. They turned the viral marketing in their favor, and to this day Xbox continues to be a successful brand. Offering custom merchandise or services when your company has screwed up is a great way to diffuse a social media disaster. The package they shipped him wasn’t hard for Microsoft to put together, but a few hundred dollars in merchandise to an angry customer was enough to turn the situation around. If it’s reasonable, consider offering similar benefits to customers who complain.

3. Ask the Customer to Reach Out Directly to You

Finally, if there’s easy way of publicly dealing with a complaint via social media, take it private. Politely reach out to the commenter, and continue the conversation over the phone. Email may not be the best route; it’s less personal, and customers can post further gaffes unwitting customer service specialists. If for whatever reason the customer continues to use social media as a forum to complain, state your case, but do so politely and continue to make reasonable offers to placate the customer. Essentially, your goal at that point is to look like the adult.

Approaching a customer who complains over social media is a delicate, yet essential task. Use the above pointers to avoid turning a complaint from bad word of mouth to a viral bashing of your brand name.